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Media Therapy

Sometimes a change in attitude is really all that’s necessary to change your shitty life (or rather, what you perceive as your shitty life).

Take, for example, today.

Yesterday, I was a ridiculous mess. I’m gonna blame mercury, because there ain’t no logical way to explain it, but when my niece came home at 9:00, she found me in a ball on the couch, crying. Yes, I’d been drinking. But wow, was I upset over nothing. That sadness (but not the tears) stayed with me until I went to sleep…

…but it was mostly gone by the time I woke up (at 7 a.m.!!) this morning.

My niece took the day off from work because she wasn’t feeling well, and she needed to get some errands done. When she told me her errands included the bookstore and the library, I asked if I could join her.

I ended up coming home with two brand new books, four free paperbacks, 9 videos borrowed from the library, and 7 new $1 CDs I’ve never heard, from Aboveground records. That’s plenty of distraction to tear me away from my other distractions, which have been bothersome lately.

Getting lost in a fluff book, or a movie with no cinematic merit whatsoever? Listening to music (that may or may not suck) for the first time? Way healthier than dwelling on real or imagined hurts that you have absolutely no power to change.

(patting self on back)

So yeah, today was a good day.

Books Insomnia Observations Rant School Think

A Torpor Only Joyce Can Induce

I had thought, with the terminus of Robinson Crusoe, that my sentence of terrible British literature had been served, but I was mistaken. I didn’t realize that Defoe could be outdone in the realm of boring, redundant and pointless prose–that is, not until I tasted Joyce. I have just spent the past six and a half hours reading A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man. For those of you who aren’t familiar with my reading speed, I could have read all of Jane Eyre (some 500 pages) in the time it took me to take down this thin little wisp of a book. Though I have barely moved the entire evening, I am exhausted from trying to derive meaning from what is supposedly a great book. The only truth I have gotten from it is this: Anyone who willingly reads Joyce is either a zealot (religious or aesthetic), or a masochist, or both. And to think, people actually read Finnegan’s Wake, which is easily four times as long.

Everything hurts, and the Vicodin is not helping. I’ve wasted an entire night for the sake of a sophomore class in which I currently have a C. I’ve never had a C in my entire college career. If I ever sign on for another class in British literature, someone please have the decency to smack the shit out of me.

That is all.

Blather Books Observations Pointless Narcissism Rant School Think

No Wonder Sir Thomas More Was Beheaded

Someday, and I hope it is soon, someone will give me a legitimate and sufficient reason why, pure sadism aside, college professors routinely insist on assigning to their students the most laborious and unreadable muck. Often these assignments are preceded by something along the lines of, “well, it’s a bit dry and not very engaging, but…” Well, if it’s dry and not very engaging, then why the hell should I subject myself to the task of reading it?

I have, as of five minutes ago, officially given up on reading Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, for which our class was granted a total of two days. I am a fast reader, and I take down Shakespeare like it was the Bobbsey Twins, but I liken the attempt to read More’s tireless manifesto to riding a bicycle through wet cement.

The great irony here, too, is that in another class, Magazine Writing, the text insists that one must be as concise as possible in writing, and avoid unnecessary and arrogant clutter. Yet, in my British Literature class, in which I expect to be reading the “greats,” all I have gotten so far is clutter. Of the 110 pages I’ve read so far (and the book is about 145), I would guess that the whole of More’s statement could be conveyed in no more than 50 pages, and that would be generous. His sentences are so long that before you reach the end of them, your eyes begin to cross and you must return to the beginning to recall what exactly he was talking about to begin with.

I know that as the class progresses, and the timeline moves forward, the reading will get to be less tiresome, but I like to think of myself as a diligent student, and it pains me to cast aside an assignment out of frustration in only my first week of classes. Were this the only time this has happened, I would not be so annoyed–but it has happened multiple times, and I’ve started to notice a trend. While I understand that much of 16th century writing is thus cluttered and long-winded, I’m sure that there could be chosen another example of the time period which would at least engage a reader to the point of completing it. I can only imagine the trouble this awful book has given the other students in the class, mostly sophomores, some of whom undoubtedly read more slowly and retain less than I do. I finished Tristram Shandy (which, for those of you who don’t know, is a 700 page book with neither plot nor point, which moves around at random and has a jillion footnotes) and I think I was the only one in the class who did.

If I can take down Sterne as I did, then my inability to finish this godforsaken piece of (completely irrelevant at this point in time) political rubble should be recognized for what it is: proof that More’s writing is dull, overly puffed-up ego-tripping. So what if it was a stab at Henry VIII? So what if More was beheaded for it? I’d behead him, too–and not for the insult. So what if he was sainted by the Catholic Church? I find myself in direct disagreeance with nearly everything the Catholic Church has to say. His complete madness should be evidenced by the fact that he wore lice-ridden hairshirts and whipped himself, for fuck’s sake. And this is someone whose teachings I’m supposed to be enlightened by? No one who purposely mortifies his own flesh with goat hair should be taken as anything less than a lunatic.

So there. Now you all know what I’ve been doing, and why I’ve been so silent lately. I have gone back into “school mode,” which due to my self-defeating class choices means that I will have very little time to write long-winded, puffed-up diatribes of my own.

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Five Pound Book Wanted; Short Bespectacled Wizard-People Need Not Apply

For the past several days, since its long-awaited and much-hyped release, my roommate has been tirelessly reading the latest (and purportedly final) installment in the Harry Potter book series. He sits for hours on the porch, absorbed–he doesn’t speak unless spoken to; in fact the only sound he makes is the occasional chuckle, which is directed, of course, at the fictional characters within, and not at any human within his proximity.

On one level, I understand his rapt intensity: I have been a reader of this sort my entire life. When I was in my early twenties, I read all of Alexandra Ripley’s Gone With The Wind sequel in a single sitting–eight hundred pages in seven or eight hours on Christmas night. When my sister came down in the morning to make coffee, she saw me sitting at the kitchen table, where I’d been when she went to bed. You’re up early, she said. No, I replied, I’m up late. I closed the cover of the book and pushed it across the table at her. You’re kidding me, she said. I shook my head. I am no stranger to picking off a book in one go, regardless of the length of the thing–provided I have the time. Les Miserables, of course, took a few days, maybe a week. I am also very familiar with the sort of exclusionary hypnotism a good book provides–particularly a good book of fiction. Unfortunately, due to a monumentous school reading load and an inability to get back on the horse after the semester finished, I can’t remember when I was last in that trance.

On the other hand, I can not relate to my roommate’s unrelenting consumption of pages because I seem to be the only adult woman alive who has not even opened the cover of a Harry Potter book. I haven’t seen the movies, either. All I know about Harry Potter is that he’s a pint-sized wizard, he’s got a dorky redheaded friend and a cute one and maybe one other, and apparently they’re all enrolled in some magician school of sorts. Something about Warts. I know that the people behind the merchandising empire have found a way to make a little bag of jelly beans cost seven dollars, and I know that the woman who wrote the books was facing homelessness before they were picked up, and now she’s a bazillionaire.

The reason I haven’t read Harry Potter is simple. I was an underpaid employee at Borders in Monterey when the first book came out, and the second. If that’s not telling enough, let me elaborate: For weeks on end, I answered the same question, moved and re-moved thousands of copies of the same book, directed people to the same area of the store, tendered the exact same transaction. Though Christmas is gift-wrapping season, and Potter was not released at Christmas, I gift-wrapped hundreds of copies of it in a matter of less than a month. I went through this horror twice–at an astounding pay rate of seven dollars an hour (jelly beans, anyone?). So no, I had no desire to read the thing myself. As far as I was concerned, it was a thirty dollar paperweight. Kindling, perhaps, but not worth my precious reading time. In addition, I assumed that as I tend not to be enthralled by what everyone in America is obsessed with (Britney Spears, The Matrix, The Arcade Fire, etc.), it would be an expensive waste of time anyway.

However, I find myself strangely envious of my roommate. I want a book that will do that to me again.

Truth be told, I could probably pick up book one, and within a day be finished with it–and likely enjoy it despite the fact that I’m convinced it’s probably a Tolkien rip-off but with younger, more kid-friendly characters. Once I’d finished the first book, I’d devour the second, the third… and then I’d be waiting with the rest of America for the next installment. I went through that routine once with the Robert Jordan series and I gave up after the second book. And of course, there’s the whole loyalty-to-principles issue–I’ve stayed with my Potter boycott so long that I don’t want to give up now.

I could re-read the Lord Of The Rings trilogy–but I know how it ends, and that would take away the magic. Similarly, I could re-read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, two books which had me so transfixed that I finished the former while sitting in a bathroom in a motel in Memphis because my father insisted I shut out the light in the room. Then again, I know how those end, too. I want a thousand pages of someone else’s imagination that will so wholly seduce me that I will forget to go to work, eat, and sleep–and I just can’t find it.

So I beseech you, dear readers: Give me an alternative. Recommend to me a well-written fictional book or series that a) is not Harry Potter; b) has more than five hundred pages; c) is not written by a depressing Russian, d) does not involve months of anticipation for a sequel; and most importantly e) will hold me in a state of such singular awe that I will unknowingly make wide-eyed faces like the one my roommate just made, laugh out loud, cry real tears, and lament having reached the end too soon.

Until then, I’ll be reading Lester Bangs’ and Chuck Klosterman’s essays, one at a time, on the train.

Books Friendship People Rant

Don’t You Hate It When…

…your best friend casually drops into conversation–as casually as I’d mention having once waited on Al from Quantum Leap–that she met Hunter S. Thompson? And furthermore, did mushrooms at his cabin and partied for an entire evening?

I am not one to get starstruck, but Dr. Gonzo?! Now that’s being in the presence of greatness, and she didn’t even seem to have recognized it for what it truly was. Oh yeah, she said, I met him, but I didn’t see him much after that. Who cares? She met him. She saw him, in the flesh, and was able to reconcile the man with the myth, and seemed completely nonplussed. What I wouldn’t give to have been her for that one moment. Instead, I served tea to a complete asshole B-rate star, and almost ran over Kelly Lynch on my bicycle when I was 16. Not comparable. Not in the least.421b1f5f5eec5-35-1.jpg

Books Music Nostalgia Observations People Pointless Narcissism School Think

The Two-Dollar Cure For Brain Death

When I was a teenager and had little in the way of responsiblity to worry about, I read. I mean I read a book a day, almost every day. I’d stay up into the wee hours of the night on a school night to finish whatever book I’d had clandestinely hidden behind my textbooks in class, and the next day I wouldn’t feel any worse for the wear. I read voraciously, and I read anything. I’d go to the local Thrift Store because the books were fifty cents, and I’d buy heaps of them. Some I’d never read, but most I’d pick off within the week.

This unflagging ability to read continued into my early twenties, and ended promptly when I returned from a three month trip to New Zealand in 2003. While I was in New Zealand, I read books I found on hostel shelves, I traded books with other travelers, and when there was nothing free, I ventured to used book stores and usually came out ten minutes into the visit with twenty pages under my belt already.

Upon my return from the trip, I enrolled in community college in Monterey, California, where I was living. I was also working full-time at a restaurant. While I did still read–often by average standards–I did not have the time or the focus to keep up my previous pace of three books a week or more. It also became more difficult, as my attention drifted to academic reading and my mind reeled over the unprecedented fullness of my schedule, to pick a book to read. I’d stand in front of loaded shelves and stare, pick up book after book and read their jackets, and leave the store empty-handed. Because I am incapable of riding buses or sitting around without some sort of reading material, I begun to read magazines–Spin, Outside, Backpacker, Rolling Stone, the New Yorker–whatever glossy cover attracted my attention and boasted of having something intelligent to say inside. After a few weeks of “reader’s block,” I’d find a book, usually by accident, and I’d be back in the saddle again, so to speak.

As my educational pursuits have continued to become more focused (writing and literature) and more difficult, the reader’s block has stayed with me, and it’s gotten more frequent and more… well, blocked. During the semester, I am able to read my required reading (which last semester consisted of two novels, fifteen to twenty essays and ten to twenty short stories per week), but I become incapable of reading anything else, due largely to lack of time–and guilt. It is during the semester, however, that I routinely find books I’m desperate to read–only I can’t read them, I have to put them off. By the time I have time for them, I’ve either forgotten what they were or lost interest.

I’ve found, disappointingly, that this block has continued well into what is supposed to be my relaxation time–my free reading time. School does not begin again until mid-September, so I have all the time in the world to sit around and read, but by and large I can’t. Since the end of the semester in May, I have read a total of three books. Three books in six weeks. That’s a sixth of what I used to be capable of. I’d like to say that my disappointing reading record is due to a busy schedule, other projects, a sudden burst of artistic creativity–hell, I’d even willingly blame it on a new friend or boyfriend. But it’s not that. I’ve got plenty of time to read, I just don’t. I stand in front of my shelves and look at books I’ve intended to read for months or years–half-finished biographies, books of essays and letters, “must read” classics. I stare, I ruminate, I walk away empty-handed.

When I do find something, I’m grabbed and I hold on for dear life until the thing’s done, but I’m reluctant to read the last pages, because I know that when I’m finished, I won’t have anything to read for days, or even weeks. This was how I felt the other day when I finished Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams, which I’d borrowed from a friend months ago and left sitting untouched until in a moment of desperation I forced myself to read the first twenty pages of it. From there, I was golden–but I don’t like forcing it.

I’ve just moved into a house with three other people–three other people who read–which means that I’ve got their entire lot of books at my fingertips as well as my own. The morning after I finished Animal Dreams, I stood in front of the shelf and stared not at the same familiar titles I’ve been looking at all year, but at new ones. A few of them jumped out at me: a Vonnegut book I’d never heard of; Steppenwolf; Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang; a history of cults. It was this last which piqued my interest–I’ve always been fascinated by cults and the people who join them; I am baffled by the ability of some people to suspend free thought and blindly follow the rules of a charismatic but megalomaniac leader. “I think I’m gonna read about cults,” I said to my roommate, excited. Five minutes later, I put the book back on the shelf, along with The Monkey Wrench Gang and Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.

Then yesterday, the unexpected happened. I was loafing around in Harvard Square, slowly going about my errands, and I followed the smell of cheeseburgers toward Bartley’s, a legendary burger joint. Of course the place was packed beyond consideration, and I turned around. On my way back, I passed the Harvard Book Store, an independent with a great selection of used books and nearly everything new that I would ever want. I spent five minutes inside, considered a few things, and walked out, disappointed.

On my way back to the train station, I passed the Book Guy: a bespactacled, Z.Z. Top-looking vendor who sets up a stand on the sidewalk (it used to be downstairs inside the T station) and sells books, his dog tethered to his director’s chair the whole time. I paused at the Book Guy’s stand and a thick white paperback caught my attention immediately. Rolling Stone Magazine, its cover declared. A history of the magazine’s beginning, and its polarizing, revolutionary/capitalist founder, Jann Wenner. In small print under the book’s title I saw Hunter S. Thompson’s name, and when I flipped open the cover, his words of praise for the book were printed at the top of the first page. I’ve been a reader of Rolling Stone for years, increasingly reluctant to shell out my five bucks for what will largely be ads and stories on music I don’t give a damn about, but unable to pass up the chance of reading the occasional gem that it seems only Rolling Stone is capable of digging up. And Thompson, well, he was the clincher. I would enthusiastically read anything he ever touched.

I paid the Book Guy my two bucks, and by the time I’d reached the platform in the subway station, I had read twenty pages. By the time I got home later in the evening, I’d read 78. And this book, which takes place largely in the late 60s and early 70s, is the perfect segway to reading about cults.

For the moment, I’m cured. Thank you, Book Guy, for throwing a mountain of books in my path and making me stop. I’m eternally grateful, and will continue to give you my two bucks as often as I am able.